At the Golden Globes earlier this month, Nicole Kidman wore a black bow in her hair with a sexy sequined dress. A few months earlier, Duchess Kate Middleton started wearing large headbands. And I’ve been seeing pearly barrettes pop up on influencers all over my feed. Mark my words: By this summer, we will all have sweet, feminine doodads in our hair.
Gossip Girl fandom was the last time we really saw hair accessories on the street, in our TV shows, and on celebrities. I remember tearing out and scrapbooking an image from Teen Vogue of an obscenely overpriced bright-yellow headband that mimicked Blair Waldorf’s prissy queen bee vibe. Headbands and barrettes are, of course, different, but hold similar societal implications as nonfunctional, nonreligious fripperies to be worn on your head. As style choices, they’re particularly divisive because they’re associated mostly with babies, and less commonly with royalty, Olympians, and 18th-century aristocrats. They’re cloyingly precious, sure, but they’re also something that for centuries have signified “this is a special person.”
Hercules, the OG for toxic masculinity, wore a wreath. Early Olympians were given olive wreaths in lieu of medals (only if they won first place). Noble Roman women in the first century styled their hair in a deliberately over-the-top style, so their hair resembled a headband on its own. Men’s wigs in the 17th and 18th century were often tied with a black bow that’s not unlike something from Jennifer Behr you can find in 2019. And then there are a whole litany of crowns and headpieces used around the world to signify royals and leaders.
Children through all these times wore bows in their hair, but after Alice in Wonderland cemented the child/headband connection, hair accessories began to lose their power. A thin headband is now called an “Alice band” in England. Perhaps the elaborate hairstyles of the likes of Marie Antoinette didn’t help the bow’s relationship with frivolity and excess.
The two implications combine into a jumbled message of I’m the boss, but don’t hold me accountable for anything. No one embodies both sides of the hair-accessory paradox better than Blair Waldorf, an Upper East Side teen who wields immense power in a tiny, cloistered world. In the bonus material that came along with Gossip Girl season one, costume designer Eric Daman explained that he saw Blair’s headbands as a crown, and her devotees’ headbands as tiaras. “I am the queen, therefore I must mark my queenness with my little headband,” Stephanie Savage, co-creator of the show, said in the clip, emulating Blair.
All things early aughts are coming back, which partly explains the newfound appeal of hair accessories. But I think there’s another thing happening here: All of a sudden in fashion, being pretty feels radical. Like the Batsheva prairie dress, a hair bow or a headband signifies a kind of innocent, pretty girlishness that’s almost completely devoid of sexiness — which feels fresh, almost punk, after years of high-fashion minimalism and high-drama sexuality.
What headbands and barrettes and bows convey more than anything else, though, is confidence. At a party recently, I saw designer Simone Rocha, in her usual disheveled-princess garb, wearing a pearly headband. Many of the people who wear Rocha’s avant-garde designs would not wear headbands, but she looked wholly at home in the accessory. Same with Blair Waldorf — a headband was as much a part of Leighton Meester as her Cheshire Cat smirk.
If there’s one thing children and aristocrats have in common, it’s confidence. If you feel inspired to adorn yourself with a crownlike piece of jewelry, do it. If you have the inclination, you can probably pull it off.